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Monthly review August 2019

Monthly review August 2019

Europe

G7: the split intensifies

The G7 summit was held in France between August 24 and 26. The leaders of the US, France, Germany, UK, Canada, Japan and Italy discussed internal contradictions between the world’s leading economies, particularly between Washington and the rest of the member nations, and compromises were reached on some issues. The United States and France signed a digital tax agreement that Paris initiated in order to close loopholes created by American big tech companies operating internationally. 

However, when it came to political issues, little common ground was found. Trump refused to meet with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, who had been invited by Emmanuel Macron, and all of the European countries, with the exception of Italy, opposed Russia’s return to the G8. Donald Trump, however, also supported the idea. Organizers abandoned the idea of ​​signing a summary document, understanding they would not be able to find a common position on most issues.

Brexit: Boris against parliament

On August 28, Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain announced the suspension of the British Parliament by decree effective September 12 until October 14, 2019. The request to take this course of action was made by the new Prime Minister Boris Johnson, in order to prevent Parliament from blocking Johnson’s no-deal Brexit. The prime minister has promised to carry out Britain’s withdrawal from the EU before October 31.

The decision to suspend Parliament caused outrage, and not only among the opposition: Johnson’s move was even opposed by some Tories. Outside the halls of power, mass protests also began. Johnson will be able to implement Brexit on time, as promised… but his methods will likely only increase the divisions within British society.

Italy: regime change

On August 29, Italian President Sergio Mattarella instructed Giuseppe Conte to form a new government from representatives of the Five Star Movement and the Democratic Party. The decision was the result of a government crisis that began in early August. The initiator of the crisis was the Deputy Prime Minister, and leader of the populist “Lega” party, Matteo Salvini.

After his party surged in popularity in recent months, Salvini announced his withdrawal from the government coalition with the Five Star Movement. Salvini demanded early elections, hoping to become prime minister based on their results. However, his actions left him expelled from the ruling coalition.

The experiment of creating a government consisting only of populists and Eurosceptics has officially collapsed, and the forces of Globalism have triumphed. However, the Five Star Movement’s alliance with the Democratic Party could lead to the political death of the Five Star Movement, as voters will be hesitant to support them in the next election.

Eurasia

Kyrgyzstan: North versus South

On the evening of August 7, a special detention operation began at the residence of the ex-president of Kyrgyzstan Almazbek Atambayev in the village of Koy- Tash. Clashes took place between supporters of the ex-president and Kyrgyz special forces. They managed to arrest Atambayev only the next day. Dozens of people were injured during the clashes, and several commandos were captured. One commando was killed.

Despite the pretext of a fight against corruption, Atambayev’s arrest is linked to the confrontation between two major clan groups in the country based in the north and south. Atambayev represents the north, and current president Sooronbai Jeenbekov the south. Traditionally, politically and ideologically, the country has been divided more or less the same way. The South (Osh clan) is distinguished by stricter Islamic rules, higher crime rates and drug trafficking.

The balance of powers between the Kyrgyz elites has been broken and the threat of serious political turmoil is growing. 

Russia, Azerbaijan and Iran: energy integration

On August 12, Russia, Azerbaijan, and Iran agreed to unify their energy systems. The electrocorridor of the Russian Federation, Transcaucasia, and Iran will accelerate the formation of a common economic space in the vast region. The project is beneficial to all participating countries from both an economic and geopolitical point of view.

Erdogan in Russia

On August 27, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan paid a visit to Russia. He and President Vladimir Putin discussed the situation in Syria and agreed that military-technical cooperation was the central issue. Earlier, the Syrian Army, allied with Russia, carried out a successful offensive in Idlib and even attacked a Turkish army convoy, an issue Erdogan took up with the Russian president. Cooperation between Russia and Turkey in Syria is important for both countries, so they are likely to find a way out of this problem.

Moreover, it is likely that high-levels of military-technical cooperation will continue, including Turkey procuring Russian aircraft. During a visit to Russia, Erdogan showed interest in buying Russia’s fifth-generation Su-57 fighters. This aircraft, as well as the new Su-35s, could be a suitable replacement for the F -35 which Washington is now refusing to sell Turkey.

Ukraine: the new government

On August 29, the new Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine came into session and approved the composition of the new government. Since Ukraine is a presidential-parliamentary republic, the event indicates the final transfer of power to President Vladimir Zelensky. Alexey Goncharuk, the former head of an EU funded NGO, became the country’s new prime minister. The new government consists of the representatives of oligarchs and numerous figures with open foreign interests.

Middle East

Turkey and the US: talks on Syria

On August 4, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced his intention to launch a military operation in Syria in the area east of the Euphrates River in order to curb the activity of Kurdish terrorists. The United States is opposed to the plan. Erdogan’s statement brought tension to ongoing negotiations between Turkey and the United States on the creation of a security zone in northeastern Syria, and the military operation was delayed. However, the countries did not reach a final agreement. The US does not intend to stop supporting Kurdish terrorists.   

Tensions rise between the UAE and Saudi Arabia over Yemen

On August 7, the situation in southern Yemen escalated even further. Troops loyal to the South Yemen Transitional Council troops captured government offices and military camps in Aden. The forces responsible are advocating for the secession of South Yemen and are backed by the UAE.

The South Yemen separatists, aided by UAE airstrikes, began clashes with President Hadi’s troops, which are supported by Saudi Arabia. Both Saudi Arabia and the UAE are fighting in Yemen against pro-Iranian Houthi rebels, however, the conflict over the country’s largest port, Aden, suggests strong contradictions between the UAE and the Saudis.

The ongoing armed conflict in southern Yemen between the forces of an internationally recognized government and the separatists of the Southern Transitional Council (UPJ) risks creating a serious conflict between Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). However, these countries’ differences are evident not only in the Yemen conflict but also against the backdrop of the US’ anti-Iran campaign. In July, the Emirates – without the approval of their allies – sent a delegation to Tehran to discuss the safety of shipping in the Persian Gulf. The UAE, unlike Saudi Arabia and the United States, did not accuse Iran of attacking tankers in the Gulf of Oman over the summer.

Offensive in Idlib

On August 22, the Syrian Arab Army took control of Khan Sheikhun in the Idlib province, one of the largest settlements in the province. The city is considered a stronghold of the al-Nusra Front. At the same time, the Syrian operation in this region has complicated relations between Russia and Turkey, as a Turkish convoy was allegedly bombed in the assault. Turkey supports the Syrian opposition operating in Idlib. In addition, the defeat of the militants led to an outpouring of refugees, which increased pressure on the Turkish border. Their influx into Turkey may put Ankara in a difficult position.

Iranian tanker released

On August 22, Gibraltar authorities freed a captured Iranian oil tanker, ending the months-long diplomatic confrontation between Iran and Britain. Shortly before Grace 1 was to leave Gibraltar, the US Justice Department announced a warrant for the detention of the vessel. The liberation of the Iranian tanker indicates that Iran’s strategy of applying counter-pressure via the capture of the British tanker was successful. However, the events linked to the capture of the tankers drove the UK toward joining the ant-Iranian maritime operations ongoing in the Gulf.

Asia

Kashmir’s new status

On August 5, Indian authorities changed the status of the state Jammu and Kashmir, turning it into two allied territories: Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh, which will have fewer rights than the state. Jammu and Kashmir is the only predominately Muslim state in India. By changing the status of Kashmir, Prime Minister Narendra Modi sought to solve several problems at once. The first task was to strengthen control over the territory in order to confront Pakistan. The second task was to increase the popularity of its nationalist party, the BJP, among radical Hindus.

The decision of the Indian authorities led to a deterioration in relations with Pakistan and the escalation of military tension. As a result, Indian Minister of Defense of India Radzhnath Singh said that India may revise its policies regarding nuclear warfare.

Hong Kong crisis

Throughout August, protests continued in Hong Kong. China has accused Western countries of supporting the demonstrators who oppose further integration with China. On the eve of the G7 summit, Donald Trump spoke out in support of the protests, urging Chinese President Xi Jinping to meet with the protesters. Trump also said that trade negotiations between the United States and China cannot proceed as normal if the authorities use force against the protesters in Hong Kong. 

On Friday, August 30, several prominent activists were arrested, including Joshua Wong, the figure from the protests most well known in the West. International pressure continues to hold the PRC back from decisively suppressing the protests.

North America

The end of the INF Treaty

On August 2, the US officially withdrew from the INF Treaty. This agreement between Russia and the United States limited the two superpowers from further developing medium and short-range missiles. On August 19, the United States tested the first medium-range ground-based missile. The destruction of the INF Treaty will increase tensions in Europe, where the United States and Russia are now able to deploy medium-range missiles with nuclear warheads.

Another likely missile deployment area is the Pacific. The United States intends to use those weapons to deter China, a non-member of the former INF Treaty.

USA: mass shootings

Two mass executions took place in the US in the span of two days. On August 3, 20 people were killed in a supermarket in El Paso, Texas. Law enforcement officers detained Patrick Crusius, the suspect in the crime. Before the attack, he published a manifesto on the web where he expressed solidarity with Brenton Tarrant, the man who killed over 50 people in a mosque in New Zealand earlier this year.      

On the night of August 4, a second similar crime occurred. In Dayton Ohio, an offender opened fire near a bar, leaving ten people dead, including the shooter himself. The shooter described himself as a “leftist,” but investigators say his actions were not politically motivated.

On August 31, around 30 people were reportedly been shot in Texas in two separate locations in Midland and Odessa.

Mass shootings show the degradation of American society and the growth of mutual hatred in the United States. The incidents have again raised the issue of gun control.

Epstein’s case

On August 11, the FBI opened an investigation into the death of billionaire Jeffrey Epstein, who was recently found dead in a New York prison cell. According to the official version, he committed suicide. Epstein was accused of creating a criminal pedophile network that served the wealthy and powerful. According to investigators, for several years in a row, the billionaire forced underage girls to engage in prostitution, often taking place on the financier’s private island. 

Epstein was a friend of Bill Clinton, Donald Trump and British Prince Andrew, leading many to question the cause of death. Many suspect that Epstein was killed by order of one of his former friends.

Greenland: for sale?

On August 20, US President Donald Trump canceled his planned visit to Denmark. The reason for this step was the refusal of the Danish government to consider the possibility of selling Greenland to the United States. Earlier, information about the intention of the US president to buy the world’s largest island was disseminated by American media. 

The United States needs Greenland for several reasons. Greenland has oil, uranium, and rare earth metals: neodymium, praseodymium, dysprosium, and terbium. They are vital for modern high-tech industries, but more than 70% is mined in China, putting Trump at a disadvantage in the ongoing trade war.

Possession of Greenland would give the United States the right to claim the Arctic shelf, including the oil and gas reserves in the Arctic. It would also make it possible to deploy troops on the island to strengthen the existing base in Thule. In addition, the United States would be able to deploy nuclear weapons in Greenland, which Denmark strongly opposes.

The United States will continue to put pressure on Denmark, hoping to at least strengthen its presence on the island economically and military. In addition, Washington may support organizations in Greenland pushing for a closer relationship with the US. In the event of a successful purchase, Greenland could obtain the status of the territory of the United States and exercise broad self-governance… it could also become a formally independent state, but, in reality, a de facto colony like Kosovo.

South America

Protests against Bolsonaro

On August 2 in the capital of Brazil, thousands of women from local tribes came out to protest against the environmental policies of President Jair Bolsonaru. Their actions are associated with the widespread fires currently burning down parts of the Amazon rainforest – the world’s largest rainforest. Numerous indigenous participants came to the rally in traditional clothes and skin-paint carrying spears and arrows. Bolsonaro is a close friend of large-scale mining companies that are hoping to seize the areas in order to profit off of the natural resources.

 Guatemalan elections

On August 12, the presidential elections ended in Guatemala. The leader of the center-right party “Forward” Alejandro Jammatti was pronounced the winner. His main rival was the social democrat Sandra Torres. 

The next president of Guatemala will have to decide the fate of the agreement reached by US President Donald Trump and former Guatemalan leader Morales from late July (the so-called “safe third agreement “). The deal has not yet been ratified, so the responsibility will rest on the shoulders of the new head of state. The agreements would require countries in route to the United States to take action to curb the flow of migrants heading north. The agreement would also allow the US to reject asylum claims for migrants heading north from Honduras and El Salvador (as well as from Africa, India, Asia and South America).

Both Torres and the Jammatti criticized the Morales deal, but so far they have not expressed a clear position on its fate.

Primaries in Argentina: Macri’s defeat

On August 12, primary elections were held in Argentina. Representing the opposition coalition Front for All (Frente de todos), opposition leader Alberto Fernandez took more than 47% of the vote. Meanwhile, the current head of state, Mauricio Macri of the “Together for Change” party ( Juntos por el Cambio) won only 32.47%. As the votes came in, Macri admitted that the party had polled badly, and promised to “work to fix the situation.”

The elections themselves will be held on October 27. If no candidate receives more than 45%, a second-round will take place on November 24. As it stands now, the Peronists look to be in a good position to claim victory.

Colombia’s FARC: war resumes

On August 30, the former leaders of Colombian guerrilla group the FARC declared the resumption of armed struggle against the government. The US government accused the government of Venezuela of supporting the “drug terrorist” militia. The FARC sited Colombian President Ivan Duque’s refusal to implement the peace agreement signed by his predecessor ex-president Santos as the reason for resuming armed combat.

Duque actions can be explained by his pro-US politics and his belief that the legalization of the left FARC would be dangerous and undesirable. The FARC is supported by the Venezuelan government. Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro had said at the end of July that Farc leaders Iván Márquez and Jesús Santrich were “welcome” in his country.      

The President of Colombia’s actions could very well lead to the full-scale resumption of civil war in Colombia. Caracas’ support for the FARC, if necessary, could serve as a pretext for a US invasion of Venezuela.

Africa

A new government in Sudan

On August 21, Abdullah Hamdock was appointed Head of the Transitional Government in Sudan. He will lead the cabinet for 39 months. Earlier, on August 21, all 11 members of the Sovereign Council, who will lead the country for about three years before the next election, took oath. However, many of the ministers of the new government have yet to be named, and tensions in the country persist.

Oceania

The US and Australia strengthen ties

On August 5th, US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and his Australian counterpart Linda Reynolds reaffirmed their commitment to strengthen defense cooperation between the two countries in the Indo-Pacific region. Statements to this effect were made at an annual bilateral security forum in Sidney. During the forum, representatives from Australia stated that they had not yet discussed increased American presence in Australia. US officials, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, however, did not deny the possibility. As a result of the US withdraw from the INF Treaty and amid the unfolding of the US conflict with China, the role of Australia as a US ally in the Pacific and a possible site for the US military assets is becoming increasingly important.

On August 14, the Prime Minister of Australia, Scott Morrison, said that Canberra will provide A$500 million ($338.15 million) in advanced equipment to enhance the combat effectiveness of special operations forces. In total, the Project GREYFIN will cost the Australian government over $2 billion over the course of the next 20 years. By funding military projects, Australia is demonstrating its claim to be a leader in Oceania.

Rise of the Papuans

On August 19, the indigenous populations of the Papuans launched protests in Indonesia in the provinces of Papua and West Papua. Indonesian authorities sent about 1,000 police and military personnel to the east of the country to restore public order and shut down the Internet in the region. 

Тhe riots were а response to reports of attacks on Papuan students in cities of other provinces of the country – in East Java and Western Sulawesi- which quickly disseminated on social networks. In the Papuan provinces of Indonesia, separatist sentiments are strong. The region itself is rich in natural resources: there are rich deposits of gold and natural gas. Other regional powers, including China, are paying attention to them. Stirring up Papuan separatism may be beneficial to the United States and America’s main ally in the region – Australia. 

 
United World International

Independent analytical center where political scientists and experts in international relations from various countries exchange their opinions and views.

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